Career Perceptions Show Workers Expect Little Growth, Crave Stability: Report

The recession has done a number on workers' perceptions of career opportunities, retirement and the number of employers they would ideally like to have. A new study highlights that workers are in the mood for smooth-sailing stability with their employer and are most concerned about holding on to what they have.

A majority of workers want more money but see little room for growth in their current roles with no discernible career path, according to a recently released study of 20,000 global workers from Towers Watson, a New York City-based professional services company with an emphasis on human resource management. Seventy-four percent of workers surveyed would love to see higher pay, but only 22 percent believe it is achievable in their current company. Couple those statistics with the 51 percent who believe they have no clear path for advancement and the 43 percent who see structures in place that preclude opportunities, and you can see workers feeling boxed in and expecting to hold on as long as they can.

"The recession has clearly prompted many employees to rethink their priorities and focus on a longer-term commitment to their employer in return for some semblance of job security - despite the cuts or elimination of many programs, from bonuses to training, traditionally used as retention tools," said Laura Sejen, Talent & Rewards spokesperson, in a Towers Watson statement. "Where once employers fretted over a -war for talent,' they must now plan for a workforce that appears ready to settle in for years - perhaps even decades."

When it comes to retirement, 35 percent of workers do not expect to have financial security throughout retirement, and in the U.S. 30 percent of workers expect to work until age 70 or later. For health care during retirement years, only 37 percent or respondents believe they will be able to manage their own medical needs.

"Employees get that they're primarily responsible for their financial security in retirement, but they don't feel they have the understanding, education or tools to make the right decisions," said Sejen. "Companies now have an uphill battle not only to enable better employee self-management of benefits, but also to cope with a potential log jam of aging workers - all while addressing the contrasting needs of younger employees trying to rise through the organization."

The log jam of workers wanting steady, long-term employment is more vividly expressed in the answers to questions about how many companies workers would like to have over their careers. A whopping 39 percent said they would prefer to only work for one company while another 40 percent said two or three companies maximum. Workers may be craving stability, but is such a notion possible anymore?

A former banker-turned-anthropology professor at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Karen Ho thinks the successful American worker is now expected to be in a constant state of flux and exert rapid adaptability--something she has followed closely in studies on Wall Street company behavior and worker adaptation. On Wall Street's influence, Ho told Time magazine in a 2009 interview:

"[T]here's constant job insecurity, constant downsizing, constant restructuring, a constant need to retrain to have an adaptable skill set and be flexible. In a sense, job security and stability have been liquidated... What a lot of folks don't realize is there are tons of layoffs on Wall Street even during a boom. What they value is not worker stability but constant market simultaneity... People were working a hundred hours a week, but constantly talking about job insecurity. Wall Street bankers understand that they are liquid people. It's part of their culture."
So that may be what Wall Street workers know and expect, but how does that translate for the rest of us? Ho answered, in the same Time article:
"The kind of worker they imagine is a worker like themselves. A worker who is constantly retraining, a worker who is constantly networked, a worker whose skill set is very interchangeable, a worker who thinks of downsizing as a challenge - a worker who thrives on this. This becomes the prototype, but in many ways that's quite removed from the daily lives of most American workers... Job insecurity isn't the same thing for the average American worker."